Identifying Which Type of “Paleo” Dieting is Best for You
By this point, it should be apparent that there is hardly any consensus on what, exactly, comprises the diet of our Paleolithic forebears, be it in the media, scholastic circles, the public, or even the hard sciences. The debate on this topic, which is generally about as civil as those witnessed between the heavily tanned, overly medicated, and utterly worthless, vapid chicks on Real Housewives of New Jersey, seems to have no logical ending point. Due to the reticence of the scientific community to support it (ostensibly due to massive pressure more nefarious than Ivan the Terrible secret police), no clear answer regarding what constitutes an ancestral or Paleolithic diet can be reached. Moreover, due to modern agriculture and the unwillingness of most people to accept the facts that 1) no one who eats modern produce is truly eating “Paleo” and 2) there is no one “ultimate” or “perfect” Paleolithic Diet, this question literally cannot be resolved because we cannot recreate the diet without foraging and because the answer is far more complex than a simple yes or no.
Interestingly, I stumbled across an article in Scientific American that echoed my sentiments regarding the relative futility of attempting to isolate the “ultimate” paleo diet- you might as well hunt for the Lost Ark, the Fountain of Youth, and Lemuria while you’re at it. According to the author of the article in SA, “the Paleo diet is founded more on privilege than logic” (Jabr). Another author, Marlene Zuk, supported that argument in her book Paleofantasies, stating that “‘Paleofantasies’ call to mind a time when everything about us- body, mind, and behavior- was in sync with the environment… but no such time existed” (Ibid).
Every single species consumed today, as I’ve mentioned previously, is about as different from its Paleolithic ancestor as Mini Me from Austin Powers is from a prototypical, bloodthirsty, take-no-prisoners-because-we’ll-eat-them-before-we-get-home Cro-Magnon man. Whether flora or fauna, we’ve selectively bred everything we eat for desirable traits, rendering them totally dissimilar to their Paleolithic forebears. The entire Brassica family (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kale, bok choi, etc) is derived from a single plant that wasn’t domesticated until 4000 BCE. Contrary to the assertions of the popular media, J. Stanton suggests that the most damning evidence to the conception of Paleolithic starches, fruits, and veggies as wholly like those of the modern era (in terms of glycemic load and carbohydrate content) is the utter lack of tooth decay in Paleolithic remains.
“THERE’S SOME CURRENTLY FASHIONABLE DOGMA OUT THERE THAT “WE FOUND SOME STARCH STUCK IN A DEAD GUY’S TEETH, SO CAVEMEN DEFINITELY ATE LOTS OF CARBS,” BUT THE CONDITION OF THE TEETH DISPROVE THAT: CARB-HEAVY DIETS = TOOTH DECAY IN A LAND WITHOUT TOOTHBRUSHES AND FLUORIDATED TOOTHPASTE, AND PALEOLITHIC TEETH, INCLUDING THE ONES FOUND WITH STARCH STUCK IN THEM, ARE UNIFORMLY EXCELLENT. THE SINGLE EXCEPTION: SOMEONE FOUND A PLACE THEY WERE EATING LOTS OF ACORNS IN THE ALMOST-NEOLITHIC (15 KYA = 15,000 YEARS AGO) AND THEY INDEED HAD TERRIBLE TEETH. UNLIKE EVERY OTHER “STARCH IN TEETH” SITE, THEY ALSO FOUND THE REMAINS OF WOVEN BASKETS FOR STORING THOSE ACORNS: THERE’S A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “WE ATE IT BECAUSE IT WAS ON THE GROUND FOR A FEW DAYS AND WE’RE HUNGRY” AND “WE GATHER IT, STORE IT, AND LIVE OFF IT FOR A SUBSTANTIAL PART OF THE YEAR.”
THE “STARCH IN TEETH” CARB APOLOGISTS ALSO NEGLECT TO NOTE THAT PALEOLITHIC DIGS OFTEN CONTAIN THOUSANDS OF HANDAXES, SCRAPERS, FLAKES, AND OTHER MEAT-PROCESSING TOOLS, AND THOUSANDS OF ANIMAL BONES. (EXAMPLE: 18,500 STONE ARTIFACTS.) AND THE WIDE VARIATION IN SALIVARY AMYLASE GENE COPY NUMBER BETWEEN DIFFERENT RACES AND CULTURES OF MODERN HUMANS (PERRY 2007) SUGGESTS THAT THE ADAPTATION TO HIGH-STARCH DIETS IS BOTH VERY RECENT AND INCOMPLETE” (STANTON).
Throw on top of that brutally damning heap of factual pain the ridiculously stark lack of diversity in modern Paleo diets, and the idea that modern humans could eat a truly Paleolithic diet is nailed shut harder than a porn star in a 500-man gangbang.
Another issue I previously mentioned was the conception of regional diversity in Paleo and hunter-gatherer diets, which vary widely in food selection and macronutrient profiles. The Scientific American again backed my assertions in this regard, pointing to four different hunter-gatherer societies and their respective diets- the Inuit, Hiwi, !Kung, and Hazda. To see exactly how disparate their diets are/were, check out this badass infographic.
As you can see, their versions of Paleo are about as different as African carnies would be from a pack of white bread assholes in an East Coast country club. Having made all those points and covered all of the caveats, it’s about time to pick a Paleo diet. Before we delve into the abyss on making the determination that people seem to think will either provide the meaning of life or utter and complete physical destruction, it seems it would behoove us to rehash their various types, however. There are four main types:
- Allowed: Meat, fat, organs, and any other unprocessed animal product from animals fed and finished on grass (or forage, in the case of non-grass-eaters like chickens); fish and shellfish; eggs; tree nuts; vegetables; roots; berries; mushrooms; certain fruits in limited quantities; raw honey in small amounts.
- Forbidden: Dairy products, legumes, grains, potatoes, sugar, added salt, and processed foods of any kind.
- It works very well for fat loss and recompositing.
- It is very black and white, so there is no confusion as to what is and what is not allowed.
- It was based on incomplete information, so it’s about as restrictive as a whalebone corset on one of those fat pinup girls who think that good lighting and a boatload of makeup take off 50 lbs., and the corset takes off another 50.
- Saltless could mean electrolyte imbalances if you’re doing a lot of GPP, cardio, cutting weight, or training in the eat. You could end up cramping like
- It’s bland as all hell.
- It’s low calorie, so it would be hard to gain muscle or even maintain a lot of muscle on this diet.
- Allowed: Everything in strict paleo with the addition of salt, and other spices (except soy sauce and other grain-derived sauces); sweet potatoes; cooking oils made from animals or fruits (tallow, coconut, palm, olive); clarified butter; limited amounts of coffee, tea, mate, and other stimulant-laden beverages. Red meat is encouraged over white, eating the entire animal (offal and all) is encouraged.
- Forbidden: Legumes, grains, white potatoes, sugar, and processed foods of any kind.
- It falls much more in line with what we know about the eating patterns of Paleolithic man. One Paleolithic site in Egypt showed residues of 157 different plant and herb species, and it’s believed that even more were used that left no residue (Moore 327–99). Robb Wolf espouses the use of a variety of spices for their medicinal purposes, and it’s known that Paleolithic man used spices as medicinal aids as well (Karnes)
- The use of oil was in place during the Paleolithic, though they seem to have used nut oil for cooking. Loren Cordain suggests that good modern cooking oils, other than animal fats, are flaxseed, walnut, olive, macadamia, coconut, and avocado (Vuolo).
- It’s well known that hunter-gatherers dating back to the Neanderthals utilized stimulants ranging from coca leaves to khat to ephedra. As such, it only makes sense that stimulants be allowed in a paleo diet.
- It’s still light on carbs, for people who are very carb-centric, but not on calories, as fattier meat is encouraged to stave off “rabbit starvation.”
- Allowed: White potatoes (which I’ve explained are not only not paleo, but they were not even considered edible food in medieval in Europe), dairy if you tolerate it well, and gluten-free soy sauce is OK. Carb recommendation is around 150g/day. Occasional cheating on the diet is ok- i.e., the “80/20 rule.”
- Forbidden: Grains and “vegetable oils” like corn, soy, sunflower, grapeseed, and canola; corn syrup; textured vegetable protein.
- It’s not paleo.
- It allows a lot of high GI carbs.
- I’d not going to afford the same kind of fat loss or lean muscle as the previous types of paleo.
- In short, this is Primal with the addition of white rice and a few other tropical “safe starches” (e.g., cassava, sago, taro, tapioca), and is in no way, shape or form, actually paleo. This is paleo-lite for housewives. Avoid it.
So, this leaves us with a choice. To me, the choice is clear- I’ve done it and it works. Traditional paleo kicks ass. I will say that I’ve included a post workout meal of durum kebab most of the time that I’ve done the traditional paleo route, to get more calories and some post workout carbs, so I was eating about a half pound of roast chicken slathered in hot sauce on a burrito shell / flatbread. This was necessary because at the time I was eating far too low fat, but one must remember that when Ray Audette wrote Neanderthin, the study of Paleolithic diets was in its infancy, so he’s off base in some ways. Strict paleo left me hungry and weak most of the time and eating food without salt is like having sex without penetration. Robb Wolf knows his stuff and a higher fat diet that includes seasonings is exactly what I espouse with my Apex Predator Diet. I will agree that identifying the “type” of paleo is an issue, but to me this is a problem in and of itself. Wolf’s recommendations (Traditional Paleo), to my mind, fall best in line with what archaeology tells us Paleolithic diets were like, but none of the rest resemble Paleolithic diets in any way. Instead, they’re ridiculous alterations of a very simple concept simply to make the diet palatable to the public.
Lastly, it should be mentioned that pretty much everyone who slams into the weights like a rhino into a Land Rover on safari modifies whatever paleo diet they’ve chosen in some way. I mentioned I included protein shakes, one flatbread a day, and weekly cheat meals, though I still considered my diet to be paleo. That’s what Robb Wolf refers to as your “paleo percentage.” According to a writer for Robb’s website,
“LOGICALLY, WE ALL ‘GET’ WHAT THESE PALEO PERCENTAGES MEAN, RIGHT? IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. YOU EAT CLEAN PALEO (THIS MEANS NO PALEO PANCAKES, PALEO COOKIES, OR OTHER HYBRID PALEO CREATIONS THAT ARE SHOWING UP ON SOME PALEO COOKING BLOGS) A GIVEN PERCENT OF THE TIME (LIKE 80 OR 90) AND THEN THE OTHER 10-20 PERCENT OF THE TIME YOU ENJOY SOME NON-SANCTIONED DELICIOUSNESS. THAT’S REALLY ALL THERE IS TO IT. EVERYBODY GOT THAT” (KUBAL).
I might also mention that I chug Diet Coke, or as it was called in Vienna “Coke Lite”, like a man dying of dehydration, so no matter what paleo diet type you choose, remember that you’re a human being living in the Modern Era and none of the stuff you eat will actually be Paleolithic, so just don’t take yourself as seriously as an Evangelical Christian who accidentally wandered into a sex toy shop and just eat as closely to the diet of your choice as possible. Pick the type of diet that suits your goals and personal food preferences and you’ll be solid.
So, there you have it- Paleolithic dieting broken down like a fat kid in gym class. As Wolf’s famous for saying “Eat to live, don’t live to eat.” Just don’t take this stuff too seriously- YOLO, bitches.
Jabr, Ferris. How to Really Eat Like a Hunter-Gatherer: Why the Paleo Diet Is Half-Baked. Scientific American. 3 Jun 2013. Web. 8 Oct 2015. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-paleo-diet-half-baked-how-hunter-gatherer-really-eat/
Karnes, Amber. The Paleo Table: 8 herbs & spices you should get to know. Robb Wolf. 29 Nov 2010. Web. 19 Aug 2015. http://robbwolf.com/2010/11/29/the-paleo-table-8-herbs-spices-you-should-get-to-know/
Kubal, Amy. 90/10, 80/20, 40/60… What’s Your Paleo Percentage? RobbWolf.com. 11 Jul 2013. Web. 8 Oct 2015. http://robbwolf.com/2013/07/11/9010-8020-4060-whats-paleo-percentage/
Moore AMT, Hillman GC, Legge AJ, ed. Village on the Euphrates. Oxford University Press: 2000,
Stanton, J. Personal Correspondence.
Vuolo, Stephanie. Paleo diet primer: fats and oils. The Paleo Diet. Web. 19 Aug 2015. http://thepaleodiet.com/paleo-diet-primer-fats-and-oils/